Recipe courtesy of Veronica Chambers, Alexander Smalls, and JJ Johnson

Grilled "Watermelon Garden" Salad with Lime Mango Dressing and Cornbread Croutons

Few things say Harlem in the summertime like fresh watermelon. In 1935, when African-American business-man George Jones opened his classic movie theater, the Harlem, he didn't just serve the usual fare of soft drinks, candy, and popcorn. In between his home (which was next door) and the theater, he opened what he called a "Watermelon Garden" with picnic tables and umbrellas where patrons could gather and socialize before and after the films. If you've never grilled watermelon in the summertime, then you're in for a treat. Grilling caramelizes the sweetness of the fruit, and the char gives just a hint of smoky flavor. The wood flavor of the grill will come through the watermelon, but it won't be overpowering like the charred tomato or charred vegetables. Just make sure to slice your watermelon thick enough that it doesn't fall apart while you're turning it on the grill. Use some stale cornbread from the day before to add texture. It'll be familiar yet wholly different from anything you're used to.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 25 min
  • Active: 25 min
  • Yield: 6 servings
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Ingredients

3 pounds seedless watermelon, peel left on, cut into 1-inch-thick slabs

Olive oil

Kosher salt

1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne

1 teaspoon sugar

4 cups 1-inch cubes cornbread

2 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, melted

8 fresh shiso leaves, shredded (or Thai basil or mint)

1/2 cup dates, pitted and halved or chopped

1 serrano chile, sliced into rings

1/4 cup Lime Mango Dressing, recipe follows

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup ricotta or mascarpone

Lime Mango Dressing:

1/2 cup coarsely chopped ripe mango

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup dry sake

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

1 teaspoon minced seeded bird's-eye chile

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup canola oil

Directions

  1. Heat a grill pan to medium-high heat. Brush the grill pan with oil or drizzle the watermelon slices with just enough oil to thinly coat. Season the watermelon slices with salt and place them on the hot grill.
  2. Grill each side of the watermelon slices until charred, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Remove the rind and dice the grilled watermelon into large cubes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Toss the pumpkin seeds with the cayenne, sugar and 2 teaspoons oil and place on one prepared baking sheet. Roast until golden, 6 to 10 minutes.
  6. Toss or brush the cornbread cubes with the melted butter and place in a single layer on the second prepared baking sheet. Put in the oven along with the pumpkin seeds and bake for 10 minutes, turning halfway with a flexible spatula. Remove from the oven when the croutons are toasted and golden.
  7. Toss the watermelon, shiso, dates and chile in the bowl with the dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the cornbread croutons and toss very gently to combine without breaking the croutons. Spoon the salad onto a large platter and garnish with the pumpkin seeds and cheese.

Lime Mango Dressing:

Yield: Makes 1 cup
  1. Put the mango, lime juice, sake, vinegar, chile and salt in a blender or food processor. Blend on high. After the ingredients are blended, slowly add the oil and continue to blend until the mixture is thickened and emulsified.